Phoning It In
Where I am supposed to
be is Apple One Temp Agency in Oxnard. I’m supposed
to be taking a typing test, a Computer Skills Assessment, some kind of exam
with a calculator. I should be shuffling through job openings for Assistants
and Clerks, making appointments, finding a J-O-B.
Where I am is the Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf at the Malibu Colony Plaza, sharing
a slice of lemon tart coffee cake with Britney Spears. Me and her, we are both
totally high, thanks to these four small pills: pink and white and cream and
blue, like a baby shower.
Her face looks sculpted out of soap; she is two days into a seven-day detox
fast that apparently does not acknowledge lemon tart coffee cake. She shovels
it in with her fingers.
Fires that burned out last week are finally depositing their snowfall of ash.
We open our mouths and turn our faces to the sky, trying to catch some on our
tongues. Traffic on PCH goes hum hum hum, then stacks up like army ants when
the stoplight turns red. Like most good things in Malibu, this Coffee Bean
is really right on PCH, if you don’t get too technical about it. You
can see Nobu, the Country Mart, Moonshadows, even Malibu Colony, Mel Gibson,
and Sting from the PCH at 60 mph.
So Britney Spears, she has a baby on her lap. She has this baby but she is
totally phoning it in: stuff some lemon cake in the mouth, kiss the head. Crumbs
stick to the kid’s lips and shirt, but she pays no mind.
She is in the middle of a story: “And then I said, ‘Even a dog’s
ass sees sunshine now and then, right?’ and Mama said, ‘You should
keep the dog in the barn with the other shit-rolling livestock.’” She
fans herself with a take-out menu and laughs.
I shake my head and say, “That leather-pant-wearing prick,” and
slurp down the last of my iced chai latte. We’re talking about how hot
it is for November, and about our exes who are, of course, psycho and not to
be trusted. I look at the clock on my phone. I say, “Better wrap this
She twists her mouth up into a grimace. “How long?”
“Minute or less.” I picture carloads of sweaty men rolling up with
armfuls of battle-ready cameras and recorders and harshing our serene fucking
“Wonder what’s taking so long.” She belches and then chokes
something back down. It smells. Where I should be is at that appointment, finding
to make an honest living. I should be saying “Yes, ma’am” to
a lady in a beige pantsuit sitting behind a cheap desk in a cubicle in a run-down
building on the corner of Esplanade and Oxnard Ave. I should be getting my
shit together, turning it around.
“The wind is effing hot here,” she says, fanning with the menu, looking
around. “Where is it coming from?”
I look at the red sky. “Hell? The Valley?” and this makes us laugh,
hard. Then I want to yell at her, “You are dying! Can’t you feel
it?” But I don’t. I kind of want her to yell it at me, but she
Mel Gibson walks by, and I open my cell phone and snap a picture. My phone
is full of these useless images: celebrities doing nothing. But I get maybe
two hundred bucks for one like that.
Without a word, I turn my cell phone toward the girl and she straightens up,
closes her eyes and smiles and hugs the baby tight to her chest, brushes her
lips against his hair. I take the shot; I’ll get enough for this one
to keep me going for a month. She will look like a good mother if her fake
smile portrays “blissful” and not “borderline incomprehensibly
I put my phone away and she resumes her bad posture and we both laugh and then
we’re laughing until we’re crying. My head aches. I should be taking
a typing test.
The baby says, “Moon moon moon,” and points. There is something
round and full and glowing yellow-white through the clouds and ash. He laughs
at the sound: moon moon. Lemon tart cake crumbs fall out of his mouth and onto
This girl here with me, she wipes her own eyes with a paper napkin and whispers, “No,
honey. That one is the sun.”
Return to Archive